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Covid19Legal News

Remote family court hearings – how do they work?

The introduction of social distancing in response to the coronavirus outbreak has caused disruption to many vital services – including in the justice system. Many services that would typically have taken place face-to-face have been adapted to meet the challenges of our current climate. One such service is family court hearings, which may now take place remotely. In this post, we look at how remote family court hearings currently operate.

 

Will my family court hearing be held remotely or in-person?

For now, it is the default position that family court hearings will be held remotely using phone, video link or emails. However, there may be certain circumstances where in order to ensure fairness and in the interests of justice, a court-based hearing is necessary.

Where such a hearing is safe to take place, you may need to attend a court-based hearing. It will be up to the judge, magistrates or panel to decide whether a court-based hearing is necessary. They will consider whether audio or video testimony is suitable for the matters at stake, and the issues they may present for those taking part in the hearing.

What if my case is urgent?

Even in the circumstances where a case is urgent, arrangements may be made swiftly for the hearing to be conducted remotely. When it is not possible to carry out the hearing remotely, but there are urgent issues to be dealt with, the court can arrange to conduct a court-based hearing while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

How is a remote hearing arranged? 

Your solicitor may arrange a remote hearing, or if both parties have not yet instructed a solicitor, the court will organise the remote hearing.  When the applicant has instructed a lawyer, they will be responsible for arranging the hearing. However, if the applicant does not have legal representation, but the respondent does, the respondent’s solicitor will arrange the remote hearing. Where the court buildings are closed, a member of staff or a judge working remotely will arrange the hearing.

What technology may be used in a remote hearing? 

Remote hearings can be carried out using a variety of communication methods, and the tools that are used will depend on the requirements of the hearing. The following methods may be used:

  • An exchange of emails between the parties involved in the hearing
  • Using telephone conferencing technology
  • Where the court has a video-link system, this may be used
  • Skype for Business, which has been installed on many judicial laptops
  • Any other method of communication deemed to be appropriate for remote hearings such as Facetime, Zoom or BT MeetMe.

 

Remote hearings and confidentiality

Remote hearings must be confidential, and all parties to the hearings must attend in private. It is also now an offence to make an unauthorised recording of a remote family court hearing under the Coronavirus Act 2020.

Magistrates and judges must strive to ensure that only those who would be permitted to be in the courtroom may have access to the remote hearing and that all parties understand the rules.

 

You may also like to read our article on online mediation and if you have concerns please speak to a member of the team. 

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Contact our local experts

Legal News

What does “no fault” divorce mean for you?

Family lawyers have campaigned for years for changes to the existing legal structure for divorce in the hope of reducing the stress and conflict that almost always accompanies a marriage breakdown. As things stand today, couples have to wait for two years before they can issue a divorce petition if they do not want to make allegations about behaviour or adultery.

Since 1973, the law in England and Wales has required people to be pitted against each other by making what can often be deeply personal allegations about their spouses to get a divorce. In 2018, Tini Owen’s high-profile case brought to public attention a long-running debate around divorce law. She wanted to divorce her husband of 40 years because she was “desperately unhappy” – but he disagreed with what she said in her petition. The law stated she could only obtain a divorce by living apart from him for five years. The Supreme Court rejected her appeal.

Official records show that out of every 5 divorce petitions over the last 3 years, close to three rely on allegations about behaviour and 2 on separation facts. Between 2016-18, the behaviour fact accounted for nearly half of all petitions (46.4%, or 47.1% when combined with adultery petitions). In 2018, 118,000 people petitioned for divorce in England and Wales.

However, on 8th June 2020 MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new bill designed to remove the need to apportion blame in a divorce petition.

The planned changes to the law would mean:

  1. The need to provide evidence of separation or behaviour would be removed – all that would be required is a statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down
  2. There will only be very limited circumstances in which a divorce petition could be argued against
  3. Couples could make a joint application so that one does not have to “attack” the other by issuing a divorce petition
  4. The old fashioned language will be updated so that a “decree nisi” will become a “conditional order” and a “decree absolute” will become a “final order”

The overall time it takes to get divorced should also reduce, even though it will still be a two-stage process. In theory, it could take as little as 26 weeks from start to finish.

Margaret Heathcote, chair of Resolution, a professional organisation that promotes a non-confrontational approach to family law, said: “No fault divorce will ensure more families can come to long-lasting, amicable and constructive agreements which benefit everyone involved, particularly children.”

It remains unclear how quickly the law will now change but the highly experienced and responsive family solicitors at Farnfields Solicitors LLP are happy to advise you on all your options.

As mediators and collaborative lawyers, we are committed to low conflict outcomes and see these changes as positive for our clients, particularly as we see many cases where children feel that they are the cause of their parents’ separation. The introduction of “no fault” divorce should significantly improve outcomes for these children. This has been reflected by Justice Secretary David Gauke, who has said: “Hostility and conflict between parents leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances.”

Call us on (01747) 825432 to arrange a no-obligation initial consultation

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Contact us and speak to one of our friendly experts.

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